Bernie Callaghan: Airport can help our region soar

Having travelled through Newcastle airport this week I’m now even more convinced that regional airports are key to future growth and global connections across the North East

Bernie Callaghan
Bernie Callaghan

Having travelled through Newcastle airport this week I’m now even more convinced that regional airports are key to future growth and global connections across the North East. 

Air travel is a great leveller when trying to attract investors, international students and businesses to the region.  It is as easy to arrive here from Europe, Dubai and some longer-haul destinations as it is to descend in London, and it is a much more pleasant experience. 

Flying from our regional airports to other UK cities is an under-rated strength, and we should support Newcastle and Durham Tees Valley in their aims of expanding the range of international and domestic flights and destinations they can offer.

It’s excellent news that Newcastle airport is predicting a doubling of passenger numbers by 2030 and over 2000 more jobs by that time.

A new government report published this week states that it is ‘realistic’ to expect a growth in international student numbers of 15 to 20 per cent in the next five years. That’s an extra 90,000 students, of which the North East must make sure it gets more than its fair share.

My faculty already attracts many thousands of international students, and we are actively involved in building even stronger links with countries worldwide.  These relationships extend long after the students graduate and can help to bring new business and investment to the North East.

The region’s key business sectors, particularly automotive, offshore, high-tech and pharmaceutical all operate globally, with interlinking contacts around the world. Good air transport influences location decisions, and frees the region of any negative ‘north-south divide’ tags. It is a better, more efficient experience to use our airports than to battle through the heat, queues and delays of Heathrow.

Studies show that good air connectivity is vital for the development of ‘world cities’ with strong business and student locations. The way in which our regional airports are plugged into other major international hubs, and the choice of available routes are important considerations for people locating here, either to study for a degree or to set up a business.

Thousands of new visitors are also finding their way to the North East – many for the first time – because of the great range of budget airlines operating here.  It’s fantastic news for retailers, hotels and the tourism industry. 

Let’s hope we hear some more good news soon about a regular transatlantic flight, which will be a huge boost for businesses, students and tourists alike.

:: Professor Bernie Callaghan is dean of the faculty of business and law at the University of Sunderland

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